Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Feminism, Motherhood and Change

I am currently reading a book entitled "Daughters of God, Scriptural Portraits" by S. Michael Wilcox. It is an interesting read that has taken me through a wide range of emotions from confusion to peace and back again. In it, he examines the scriptural "portraits" of women in the Bible, Book of Mormon and Church History and extracts the lessons and examples of each.

Reading it has underscored my own unworthiness. I'm afraid that I often feel unequal to the task of living as a daughter of God. I have rapidly transitioned from single college graduate to sister missionary to single RM to wife to mother and am left with a feeling of "What just happened? Where am I?" I still feel like my single self, yet I'm living in a sort of perpetual transition. I know so many things that are expected of me - to keep the house clean, keep my husband happy, raise my daughter to be happy and well-adjusted, work and keep a full-time job, visit teach, magnify my ward calling, attend Church meetings and activities, support and love my husband, exemplify charity and kindness - and things I want to do - such as sew toys and clothes for my daughter, organize some of the chaos in our house, teach my daughter to swim, paint and draw, read and be a good neighbor. I think I am trying to adjust to the new role I find myself in with little feeling of success.

The strangest thing is that in the struggle to define what it means to be a "good wife and mother," I feel I am largely on my own. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what is a good wife and mother without any input in how to accomplish it. As a teenager and single adult, you have plethoras of practical advice. Church leaders, parents and teachers are constantly telling you what you should be doing and giving you tips on how to do it. Once you are married, they all back off and focus on the upcoming generation. "You are on your own, now," they seem to say. No church activities, General Conference talks or ward support exists for the newly married or those with new children. I think the network of Relief Society is supposed to fill the gap, but I am not connecting with Relief Society. This gap which I have gradually felt widening between me and the Church populace since my return from my mission seems to grow wider and wider as I walk through this strange new life. I suppose it is rather like learning to ride a bike. There comes a time when your dad lets go, and you fall and skin your knee. I just wish I didn't have to include others in my struggles and falls. Always before, my struggles and pains were mine alone.

With that background of struggles in mind, I have recently stumbled upon the world of the "Bloggernacle." This is a complex Mormon society of bloggers with a bemusing array of fiery opinions and backgrounds. I have found it interesting to participate in a few of the multiple boards involved, but, although many are self-labeled "misfits" in the Church-wide culture, they are not the same sort of misfit I am. I have worked out a testimony, for the most part, of the doctrines of the Church, but have not studied the ins and outs exhaustively. I have come to peace with seemingly anti-feminism stances and the Churchly definition of motherhood and womanhood as discussed so clearly in "Daughters of God." What I haven't come to peace with is my place within it. I have had promises and blessings given to me of which I cannot be worthy. I look at myself and simply cannot see how I could ever "go and do" the Lord's commandments well enough to enter the Celestial Kingdom. I cannot picture Heavenly Father embracing me at the last day and proclaiming "well done, thou good and faithful servant." I don't think I can do it. I agree with the doctrines of the Church, but cannot see how to accomplish them. I am, therefore, neither in the camp of feminism nor in the camp of Church-defined "motherhood."

I suppose it all comes down to trust in the Atonement of Christ. It is more than seeing there is a net below a 100 ft. tightrope, it is knowing you cannot balance, that you will fall, yet trying to walk the tightrope anyways, trusting the net will catch you. Faith is not belief or understanding, it is letting go control of your destiny and placing it into the hands of another.

When I was about 15, I had the chance to rappel down a cliff for the first time in my life. I remember getting into the harness and listening to the instructions of the expert. I pictured in my mind what I had to do, and felt my body preparing for the motions. I walked up to the brink of the tiny, 30-ft. cliff and looked over the edge to see that the man holding the safety rope was a guy in my ward who loved to tease and irritate. I didn't trust him. Despite the fear of ridicule, I simply could not go over the edge as long as that man held the safety rope. Rather than hurt his feelings, I backed away from the edge. To this day, I have never rock climbed or rappelled, I have never had another chance. In order to live this life, you have to be willing to leap over the edge, even though you can't really see who is holding the safety rope. He is shrouded in mist and others' opinions of who He is. Trusting nothing but an internal feeling that it will be okay, you step over. I don't know if I can do that. I don't think I can accomplish all the Lord has commanded me, yet I hope that He believes in me more than I do.


  1. First of all, it isn't your job to make your husband happy. He has to find his own happiness. Certainly a husband and wife should help each other and try to make life easier for each other - but you are not responsible for his happiness. And you are not solely responsible for the state of your house either. He's living there too.

    I liked this post - I always feel unworthy too. (But perhaps it's excerbated by the baby blues?) I didn't much care for the book you mentioned. It seemed too intent on glorifying women in very wishy-washy ways: "Oh, wasn't Sariah brilliant, she was such a good wife." What about Sariah as a person - she must've been beautiful because the Pharoah was in love with her - and what about her feelings - wouldn't she feel betrayed when her husband said, "Oh, say you're my sister so the Pharoah won't kill me." Sheesh. What sort of a man is he, that he's not willing to be proud and happy to be married to someone like that? But the book doesn't discuss that. Instead it's all, "She suffered so much because she couldn't have children but she was faithful and in the end she was rewarded" - as if faith alone will overcome infertility.

    I much prefer to read Cheiko Okasaki. I love her attitude - Heavenly Father doesn't want some perfect you. He wants you just as you are. Let him worry about perfecting you. You are good. You are worthy. You are important. Heavenly Father loves you. He created you. He likes you, "just as you are." Or to use another pop culture reference: "You're good enough, you're smart enough, and dog gone it, people like you!"

  2. Thank you! I will have to find Okasaki's book. I must admit that book wasn't the best option - and I agree with your synopsis. I suppose that's what I get for reading about women's perspectives from a man's point of view! :)

    And even though I know I'm not solely responsible for either my husband's happiness or my house's state of disarray, I want a clean house and a happy husband. I suppose I need to learn to let control go a bit.

  3. I tend to be fairly cynical about the rising and chosen generation. My favorite commenting strategy in such lessons is to point out, "Um. Did you notice which authority was the author of that statement? That's totally during my grandmother's generation. Let's broaden our definition of a generation."

    The vast majority of the topics always seem to be, "seniors, go on missions," "hurray you married people," and "singles, quit procrastinating and get married already." And in Relief Society? How to grow closer to your husband and how to be an example for your children? Ok, there are some generic keep a journal and read your scriptures in there too.

    I think we always hear what the general authorities are saying to other groups and not our own =\

  4. SilverRain,
    I just wanted to chime in and say that you are not alone. We are often too hard on ourselves, and filling these roles of wife and mother can sometimes be so overwhelming -- I think especially because we know how important they are. Marriage and motherhood have brought me face to face with my weaknesses I think more than any other experiences in my life. I think that may be part of the bring us to Christ. If we feel capable and independent, perhaps we won't need Him so much. At least that is where my thoughts are. Over and over again, I am having to learn how to trust in and lean on Him in ways that I had never thought of before. It's sobering and sometimes overwhelming...but when it clicks, it is the most amazing thing ever. Don't think you are alone, though. Please don't think you don't fit. You DO. You are much like the rest of us...and we are in this journey together. Go read the RS broadcast messages again. There are great messages for all of us that just may take a while to adjust your perspective on what we hear and what really is being said.

    I know what you mean, though, about lack of specifics. Sometimes I feel that lack,, "How do I know if I'm really doing what God requires?" But as we go along, I think we start to figure out a groove (until life throws a curve and we have to figure it out again).

    I'm rambling...I just wanted you to know that you are so not alone. And from what I have seen of your comments, you feel like a complete "sister" who I think "fits" quite well. You are just experiencing those growing pains that come with motherhood (or at least that did for's a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time).
    Hang in there! :)



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